An estate plan can be described in two major parts: documents that speak for you while you are alive and those which speak for you after you pass away. Both a Living Will and a Last Will and Testament are important legal documents that speak for you at different times. Every adult should take the time to understand the purpose for each document and strongly consider executing each. As with all estate planning documents, these two documents define a person’s “will”; meaning their deliberate intention or desire.
A Living Will speaks for you when you are alive, but unable to communicate due to illness or incapacity. It defines your wishes with regards to artificial life support. This document guides your family during a highly emotional time as they struggle to determine what your wishes would be. Expressing your wishes in advance reduces stress on caregivers and ensures the execution of your decisions.
A Last Will and Testament dictates how your estate and property are to be distributed after your death. This document will also include your executor designation, which is the individual who will wrap up your affairs and distribute your estate to your heirs. This document is a set of instructions that should be prepared in accordance with the laws of the state where you reside. A Last Will and Testament will be processed through a probate court in order to properly accomplish the passing of your assets. Will contests can be time consuming and expensive, therefore you should ensure your wishes are clear when writing your Last Will and Testament in order to avoid a contest situation.
So, do you need either or both of these documents? Since they serve two completely different but equally important functions, it is prudent to have both a Living Will and a Last Will and Testament. These are basic documents which are relatively inexpensive to have an attorney prepare for you. Ultimately, these documents will be available to communicate your “will”, provide your family with guidance during a difficult time, and allow you to make decisions about property you accumulated during your lifetime.
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